You may have already heard about the anti-diet approach, as it is a term that is becoming more and more popular. But what exactly is it? This article aims to answer a few questions about this approach in hopes to help you better understand what «anti-diet» really means.
What does «anti-diet» mean?
To adopt an anti-diet approach is to reject diet culture, but this doesn’t mean rejecting anyone who has been (or is on) a diet. It is 100% understandable that, in a society where weight stigma is so prevalent, a person would choose to try a diet in order to experience less weight bias or weight-based discrimination. Moreover, it will always be normal and OK to hope for weight loss because, unfortunately, many aspects of life are much simpler when a person holds thin privilege. In fact, rejecting diet culture does not automatically mean abandoning the desire to be thinner, but rather manifests itself through choosing not to act on that desire (for example, refusing to deprive oneself in order to change one’s body shape).
When we reject diet culture (which is the first principle of intuitive eating), we open the door to more pleasure, a deeper respect of one’s needs, a more balanced diet, and a more stable weight (ciao bye yo-yo dieting and weight cycling!).
In fact, being anti-diet means being FOR so many things!
Uhhh… and what exaclty is diet culture?
Diet culture is a system of beliefs that values thinness and associates it with the health and value of an individual. In addition, this culture promotes weight loss as a means of achieving higher social status. Diet culture values some ways of eating and demonizes others, resulting in a multitude of food rules as well as the appearance of certain emotions, such as guilt and shame, related to food choices.
In short, diet culture goes further than just «dieting» —it’s a way of perceiving bodies, weight and food that leaves very little room for body diversity, a broader vision of health, or a healthy relationship with food and body. 1
So to be anti-diet is to be for a healthier relationship with food?
Yes! And this can be acheived through many different avenues, including Intuitive Eating, an anti-diet approach to food, body image, and emotional regulation. The cool thing about Intuitive Eating is that it has been studied. In fact, to date there are more than 125 studies about this approach and they have shown that Intuitive Eating is associated with:
- Reduced risk factors for several chronic diseases
- A more stable weight
- Better psychological and emotional health
It is important to name here that while Intuitive Eating can sometimes result in weight loss, it is an approach that is inclusive of all bodies and is therefore not a diet or a weight loss plan. We can’t predict what will happen to a person’s weight when they start practicing Intuitive Eating.
But what if I need to lose weight for my health?
As mentioned above, although it is true that life is generally easier for thin people (because of the social realities of weight stigma and thin privilege), voluntary weight loss is rarely a viable long-term option and is not always synonymous with better health outcomes. Basically, this means that if health is important to you, awesome, but you might not have to lose weight in order to be healthy. Let me explain.
First off, let’s address the long-term viability of weight loss attempts.
You’ve probably heard it before, but the success rate of dieting is not very promising. I am not saying that diets don’t work at all, because they do, in the short term! But that’s the catch – it’s always short term (6 months or 1 year). In the long term (we are talking 3 to 5 years), the success rate is only 3 to 5%! 2,3 And within this success rate, there are many people who will develop an eating disorder or a disordered relationship with food. For the remaining 95 to 97% of people, all the weight that was previously lost (and often more!) will be gained back. Weight loss attempts are actually an excellent predictor for long-term weight gain.
So, basically, although diets work short term, they don’t work long term. And that’s because the body and mind are wired to fight against restriction or deprivation, which is perceived as a threat to survival. When the body is deprived of food (eating enough is a basic human need), it reacts in such a way as to protect itself from this «danger» by reducing its resting metabolism (energy needed to maintain your body’s basic functions such as breathing and blood circulation) and by increasing hunger hormones, in order to make you eat more. 4,5
In addition, depriving oneself of food is often the beginning of a vicious cycle called the cycle of deprivation.
In short, it is quite possible that your experiences with diets or weight loss attempts confirm all that has just been mentioned and that you have never «successfully» maintained weight loss. If this is the case, please be assured that it is NOT AT ALL your fault! The human body is simply not programmed to accept voluntary weight loss without fighting in the other direction.
Next, let’s discuss the link between weight and health.
The link between weight and health isn’t as clear as we would like it to be. Yes, higher weight is associated with certain health problems, but weight isn’t the only thing that can affect our health. Several studies have shown, in fact, that it is the adoption of healthy lifestyle habits that has the greatest impact on an individual’s health. In addition, repeated diets and weight fluctuations (weight cycling) could actually increase the risk of developing certain diseases. 6
And, it doesn’t stop there! There are still other studies that have shown that experiencing weight stigma and weight-based discrimination actually increases the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancers. 7,8
Weight, therefore, cannot determine a person’s health, even if that individual has a «high» BMI, which is not a reliable health indicator at all. If you want to understand why the BMI can’t measure your health, I invite you to read this article titled «The bizarre and racist history of the BMI».
The weight that will be healthiest for an individual is their genetic or natural weight, a weight that is achieved and maintained by having balanced lifestyle habits and a healthy relationship with food and body. However, this genetic and natural weight will fluctuate, and that is 100% normal! Bodies are made to change and adapt to our different stages of life, no matter what diet culture tries to tell us!
OK, what if I want to learn more ?
To learn more about the anti-diet approach, here are some resources :
- Christy Harrison’s Book Anti-Diet
- Intuitive Eating – the book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
- My nutritional counselling services
- Wayne C. Miller, «How Effective Are Traditional Dietary and Exercise Interventions for Weight Loss?», Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 31, no. 8 (August 1999): 1129-34
- Fildes et al., «Probability of an Obsese Person Attaining Normal Body Weight», 2015.
- Sandra Aamodt, Why Diets Make Us Fat (Current, 2016).
- C. N. Ochner et al., «Biological Mechanisms That Promote Weigh Regain Following Weight Loss in Obese Humans», Physiology & Behaviour 120 (2013): 106-13.
- J-P Montani et al., «Dieting and weight cycling as risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases: who is really at risk?», Obesity Reviews 16 (February 2015), Suppl 1:7-18. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25614199/
- J.M. Hunger et al., «Weighed Down by Stigma: How Weight-Based social Identity Threat Contributes to Weight Gain and Poor Health», Social and Personality Psychology Compass 9, no. 6 (June 2015): 255-68.
- Maya Vadiveloo and Josiemer Mattei, «Perceived Weight Discrimination and 10-Year Risk of Allostatic Load Among US Adults», Annals of Behavioral Medicine 51, no. 1 (2017): 94-104.